When Christine McVie died Wednesday at age 79, the membership of Fleetwood Mac lost a crucial component within its sound – an old soul, a sweetly world-weary vocalist and a subtly romantic songwriter whose haunted tones were both a complement to, and opposite from, the vibes of fellow singer-songwriters Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.
Her low voice and lovelorn lyricism (to say nothing of her taut, bluesy piano and organ styling) have been part of McVie’s kitbag since before she married Mac bassist John McVie and was, instead, Christine Anne Perfect – her real, befitting last name.
Here is a selection of Christine McVie’s finest moments, with and without Fleetwood Mac.
“It’s Okay with Me Baby” (1967)
Upon joining Andy Silvester and Stan Webb’s British blues band, Chicken Shack, in 1967, the young vocalist and piano player immediately turned the all-boy, boozy ensemble into something slinky and romantic with her yearning blue voice, rolling keyboard style, and a self-penned song ruminatively mature for a 24-year-old. McVie and Chicken Shack would have another hit with “I’d Rather Go Blind,” for which she was gifted a Melody Maker award for female vocalist in 1969. But “Baby” was the start.
“I’d Rather Go Blind” (1970)
When Christine Perfect met John McVie and left Chicken Shack, the highlight of her eponymously titled 1970 solo album was this Etta James-written classic, a rustling, stormy weather soul track which had (and has) few equals. The album was re-released in 1976 as “The Legendary Christine Perfect Album,” and is a must-have for any blues or McVie aficionado.
“Let Me Go (Leave Me Alone)” (1970)
From that same debut solo effort, “Let Me Go (Leave Me Alone)” is but one of five Perfect tracks written or co-written for this album, and marks the start of the vocalist and pianist writing with a pop-R&B edge, something that would put in her good stead when it came to Fleetwood Mac.
“Morning Rain” (1971)
Joining in time for the band’s fifth studio album, “Future Games,” Christine McVie became a fulltime Mac member, writing and vocalizing this languid pastoral pop song, a tune that stretches out almost jazzily across its six-minute length. Then-new American guitarist Bob Welch helped McVie achieve these jazzy soulful tones, as he also would on their co-written instrumental on this album, “What a Shame.”
“Spare Me a Little of Your Love” (1972)
The “Bare Trees” album is the real turning point in Fleetwood Mac’s move far past psychedelic blues origins. McVie’s heartbroken, radio-friendly pop , on this track, probably helped its leader, drummer and namesake Mick Fleetwood see the writing on the wall as to where his ensemble should go. Nice heavy organ work, too.
“World Turning” (1975)
McVie might have been moving toward sweet, summery pop with tracks such as “Warm Ways,” but, together with new guy Buckingham, she proved she had not lost her bluesy edge. This is in tribute to Mac’s first firebrand guitarist Peter Green who, in 1968, wrote “The World Keeps on Turning.” Re-worked with hints of Green’s fingerpicking influence in its mix, this song is a dark gem.
“Over My Head” (1975)
With 1973’s “Mystery to Me,” McVie became one of Fleetwood Mac’s two principal songwriters, with Welch. However, once Welch was gone — to be replaced by Nicks and Buckingham — the pianist -vocalist upped her ante on the jaunty pop side of the ledger and spun spidery webs of bliss with this gauzy tune.
“Oh Daddy” (1977)
“You Make Loving Fun” is McVie’s gently romping smash from the mega-selling “Rumours,” but “Oh Daddy” is the even better, more sensual song, one that displays airy musicality, a gorgeous melody and a searing sense of passionate longing.
“Over & Over” (1979)
It said a lot that Fleetwood Mac chose to lead off their sprawling double album “Tusk” – the followup to “Rumours” – with a slow McVie song. Especially one as swaggering and heartbroken yet hopeful as this with its “Could you ever need me” and “All you have to do is speak out my name… And I would come running anyway” start.
“Only Over You” (1982)
McVie pens a flat-out, straight-ahead, breezy love song for her then-boyfriend, Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson, and on the sleeve to its “Mirage” album, she thanks Wilson for inspiration. Of course, McVie’s ex-husband John was in the band and had to play that bass line. So much for Nicks and Buckingham being the only jealous loves in Fleetwood Mac.
“The Challenge” (1984)
The singer-pianist released her second solo album, “Christine McVie,” in 1984, and had one lovely song, “The Smile I Live For,” as its sole track penned by McVie alone. It is, however, a co-write with guitarist Todd Sharp, “The Challenge” – featuring Eric Clapton on guitar – that brings her gently around to her bluesy roots with sleek ’80s pop as its guide. Plus, Stevie Winwood helps to keep the blue flames burning throughout this glossy album on keyboard.
McVie wrote and sang the lustrous and lusty “Everywhere” for the Mac’s 1987 album “Tango in the Night.” But this 1997 live album’s cascading version shows off the vocalist’s cooing vocals at their most tactile. During the 15-year period she subsequently left the band, before her mid-2010s return, hearing Fleetwood Mac without her was not the same.
“You Are” (2004)
By 2004 and McVie’s last solo album, “In the Meantime,” she had settled into a low-key, slow-grooving mood far sparer and less complex than the grandeur (and complicated relationships) of Fleetwood Mac. “You Are” is the most delightful, elegant and earnest of those “Meantime” moments.
“Carnival Begin” (2017)
Back in 2017, on the occasion of McVie and one-time Mac mate Lindsay Buckingham making their first and only duets album, “Christine McVie/Lindsey Buckingham,” she told this writer how their work together “was easy, with no melodramas, and just fun… these songs gave us goose bumps.” One track that McVie said stood out for her was the cool breeze of “Carnival Begin,” a song that McVie had penned alone. No wonder. Listening to it now, “Carnival Begin” sings sweet and low of fresh beginnings, all the “colors and swings and new merry-go-rounds” life can offer.
“Stop ‘Messin ‘Round” (2020)
Once the blues, always the blues. For what turned out to be her last concert appearance, McVie sang and played in tribute to the late great Fleetwood Mac co-founder Peter Green at the London Palladium in February of 2020, a show osted by Mick Fleetwood and co-starring McVie along with Steven Tyler, Noel Gallagher, David Gilmour, Pete Townshend and Kirk Hammett. She performed the Green-penned Mac blues “Stop Messin’ Round” in duet with Tyler, along with Green’s “Looking for Somebody,” both from Fleetwood Mac’s 1968 eponymous debut album. McVie was flawless – that old soul’s voice, and a churning, mournful blues melody from Green. Two masters at work. Sweet.